Saturday, December 22, 2012

first review from Slim's gig

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club review: Rockin'

Published 4:02 pm, Thursday, December 20, 2012
Peter Hayes and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club delivered a searing set at Slim's, yet barely acknowledged the audience. Photo: Sean Havey, The Chronicle / SF 
Peter Hayes and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club delivered a searing set at Slim's, yet barely acknowledged the audience. Photo: Sean Havey, The Chronicle / SF

If entertaining banter and audience engagement are what you're looking for, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club probably wouldn't be the best choice for a wedding band - unless you were going for a more austere celebration, that is.

Though the deliciously distortion-laden wall of sound seamlessly produced by the leather-clad power trio is a pleasure to witness in the flesh, the band's performance prowess left something to be desired Wednesday night during its sweaty, packed-to-the-gills set at Slim's.

Pounding out a thorough set list that sampled widely from the band's impressive decade-plus discography, BRMC underscored the unique role it has so adeptly played as the torchbearer of the hard-driving, blues-laden rock ballad. Armed with just a bass, guitar and drum kit, the San Francisco-born garage band (now based in Los Angeles) creates a sound far more robust than its individual parts might suggest, consistently producing full-bodied, throbbing tracks that gracefully weave together psychedelic-twinged, hard-rock melodies, front-porch foot-stomping blues and raw, stripped-down guitar solos.

BRMC, which borrows its name from the biker group in the 1953 Marlon Brando flick, "The Wild One," produces refreshingly loud music that pays tribute as much to the Velvet Underground and Black Sabbath as to Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker.

And although gleefully dark and restless in its musical delivery, the band came across as a bit hollow onstage, as though only a shadow of itself. In contrast with the sound it produced, its presence felt muted, distanced from the very admiring audience at its feet. Theatrical, it was not: no encores, no swagger, not a whole lot of crowd engagement. And though the entire set was delivered with impressive force and proficiency, the band's performance overall came across as somewhat mechanical and somewhat odd, given the intimacy of the venue.

It was a paradox conveyed by front man Robert Levon Been during one of the few times he paused to address the audience. In a barely audible tone, he muttered something to the extent of:

"We don't get to play places like this much anymore. We love it, but it's scary."

But emotional deficit aside, the two-hour show was worth it. BRMC pumped out a full-on assault of sound, covering some of its finest numbers in pretty much the perfect context: a small stage in a dark, sweaty room choked with fog and strobe lights.

In their mutually smooth nasal tones, Been and guitarist Peter Hayes flawlessly traded off on vocals, sharing and overlapping, sometimes abandoning the bass altogether and massaging two guitars in unison (Been on an old acoustic-electric Gibson). Drummer Leah Shapiro, the band's newest addition, who replaced Nick Jago in 2008, kept steady pace with deceptively simple beats that provided the perfect support without overwhelming the sound balance.

BRMC comes out with its seventh studio album in the spring. It's a long-awaited record, and it remains to be seen if the band can keep the distinct sound it so artfully has carved out for itself.
Among the evening's highlights were run-throughs of some of the band's early tunes, played with an austere elegance and an impressive decibel level, including an amazing version of "Ain't No Easy Way," featuring slide guitar and harmonica.

Playing an excellent dirge-like rendition of "Beat the Devil's Tattoo" from its solid eponymous 2010 release, the band under